The Sacred Story of Shamanism

(Image Credit: David Revoy/Blender Foundation)

Around 3,750 generations ago, terrible new afflictions began to overtake certain people in the old tribes of man. Then, after overcoming what they viewed as a sort of small death, they emerged from their ordeal as if reborn. They woke up to their own divinity, assigning preeminence to the spirit world. As such, those divinely inspired indigenous Africans were the first people to be regarded as having access to, and influence in, the domain of the supernatural. So, they became special helpers of the community, using their newly acquired talent to obtain all sorts of otherwise inaccessible information.

Simply put, around 75,000 years ago, the original masters of the arcane mysteries learned how to enter trances to perform healing and divining rituals, among other things. This is when people finally discovered the power of prayer. Ultimately though, the first to become enlightened taught the appropriate standards of conduct for maintaining order among people in accordance with the divine. In so doing, they established the very first spiritual age. Since then, their apprenticeship trade has been passed on from one generation to the next, although it is an increasingly diminishing part of the ethnosphere of our species, as more and more of the chains get broken. The ancient oral traditions are gradually dying off. The animistic hunter-gatherers are nearly extinct. Their songs may soon go unsung.

Regardless, as part of the prehistoric advent of the human imagination, the story of shamanism traces the widespread journey of our species as we colonized the planet. This began around 50,000 years ago when a small band of magico-religious people set out of Africa on a coastal boating migration that took them up and around and down until they eventually reached Australia. There the indigenous people established a new set of traditions. In this way, they began to influence the spirits of their ancestors and the local flora and fauna by mirroring new kinds of behaviors. In line with this, they would adorn themselves in leaves and feathers and family heirlooms to aid in holy reenactments.

The stories that all of the ancients told were always ones that reintroduced the human legacy from their particular point of view. Each new group told a myth of their people as the original inhabitants of the world in a time and place that made them seem exclusively divine. As part of this, around 40,000 years ago, another band of wandering nomads set out on an inland diaspora that took them north. This inevitably gave rise to the Eurasian branch of shamanism. This was right around the time that humans began to paint the walls of caves with strange images. People splintered off, more and more, creating custom after custom in the process of it all.

The European shamans, in particular, believed that certain caves were sacred sites that served as doorways to the spirit world. To sanctify a space, they would often record what they had experienced by painting on the walls. There are a limited number of geometric shapes hardwired into the brain and those very images adorn some of the oldest sacred spaces on Earth. The pitch-black environments were routinely used for sensory deprivation rituals and then illuminated with torches during initiation ceremonies to give newcomers a glimpse of what they could expect to encounter on their spiritual journey. Sometimes, the acoustic chambers were used for ritual chanting. The list just goes on and on. The point is that these places were the doorways to the other side. They were portals to a new world.

This is when primitive paleolithic psychedelia really hit the scene. Non-ordinary states of awareness were held in the highest esteem by pioneering consciousness researchers the world over. They took full advantage of their modular brains, as our minds developed up through the hierarchy of needs. They experimented with chanting and dancing and discovered breath regulation and so much more. In this way, the shamans developed very reliable ways of engaging with the trans-personal realm of being. Drugs and drumming were all the rage. Altered states of consciousness were an essential aspect of their prehistoric culture. It was often unheard of for a shaman to try and commune with the spirit world without consuming some sort of entheogenic sacrament in the process.

By 27,000 years ago, shamanism had made it all the way to Siberia where healers would watch reindeer eat hallucinogenic mushrooms and trip out. Then, they would consume the yellow snow they left behind to go on a transcendent journey of their own. The shamans then repeated the process by returning to their villages with the red and white fungus which they would eat. Other members of the tribe would then drink the urine of the shaman, to induce their own visions. These medicine men contacted mythic beings and negotiated with them in order to cease calamities. If their wrath was believed to be caused by taboo breaches, the shamans asked for confessions from members of their community. Fourteen millennia later, part of the Chukchi tribe left to go establish the Navajo tribe in North America.

Over the span of three hundred generations, indigenous Americans eventually spread all the way down to the very bottom of South America, changing their magico-religious practices over time and across space as they went. In the Peruvian Amazon basin, the shamans are known as curanderos. In particular, the ayahuasqueros specialize in the use of a potent elixir known as the ayahuasca brew, which they learned about long ago by watching cats and listening to vines. These South American healers have even become quite popular among modern spiritual seekers who seek to be cured of illnesses like addiction and depression.

Although the shamans of the past seem to be vanishing more and more, the present is also giving rise to various forms of neo-pagan shamanism. These new-age mystics have their own bag of tricks, including a range of classic and contemporary practices. A tattooed, modern primitive, urban shaman with dreadlocks and designer glasses might suspend herself from hooks on chains, in a hydraulic engine lift, that is pierced through her flesh while smoking cannabis oil out of a glass rig. This is enough to propel the right person to another plane of existence, if only for a moment.

In the future, there will most certainly also be a fantastic revival of shamanism in the form of the techno-shamans. They will undoubtedly combine things like electronic dance music, transcranial stimulation helmets, nootropic, and hallucinogenic compounds, strobe lights, virtual reality goggles, and countless other things to create their own kinds of radical peak experiences. The sacred story of shamanism is never-ending. The archetypal medicine man is immortal. Witch doctors are a permanent fixture of the world.




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